I’m not really a mall person. Since I’m not really a techie either, however, I find myself in malls where Apple Stores are located when I can’t get by without a little help from my friends. So it was that I spent several hours at a mall earlier this week. While there I browsed an oriental imports store—the kind of place with a no-frills, I-might-be-gone-tomorrow kind of feel to it. In the front window they showcased a display of swords. Since dragons are a major motif in Chinese folklore, the transition to medieval images of dragon-slayers seemed to be at play here. I am not certain of the last time an actual dragon was reported in central Iowa. One of the swords had a Latin inscription along its blade. My Latin is very rusty, but I did recognize the word “God” amid the fantasy spell. The connection between religion and violence was facing me in that unused (I hope) weapon.
Religion often serves as an outworking of human violent tendencies. Our violence is, no doubt, a product of our godless evolution. As we ascended the tree of life that gave us birth, some other creatures on that tree thought we were tasty. In an unintentional effort to defend ourselves, we grew larger and larger brains that gave us the edge as predators. As a collective, humans tend to be overachievers. We’ve whittled away most of our large predators to the endangered list so that we might shop with relative comfort. If there is guilt about it, we can always blame God.
Evolution did not endow us well with body armor or sharp teeth and claws. People seem to have evolved mostly for running away—that’s what our physiognomy suggests. Among the earliest of weapons was the blade. To be effective a blade must have reach. The sword, the favored weapon of the Bible, grew until weight and balance became optimal. To harm another person you had to be close enough to look that person in the eye. If we look we find another person like us, and we need an excuse for our violence. Religion is readily farmed as the ground for justifying such violence, for religions combat evolution and any differences of opinion. What I was seeing through this mall window was a cross-section of the human story. The sword was ornamental and had clearly never been used. Unfortunately, such weapons are rare. Rarer than my trips to the mall, Apple Stores notwithstanding.